The 2020 volleyball season has been stellar thus far for the Prairiland Lady Patriots. The Lady Pats (18-3, 9-1) have lost just three times this year including only one defeat in district play. One of Prairiland’s major team strengths has been its dominant front line. Senior middle blocker T.J. Folse has helped lead the team compete well at the net and populate the win column.
T.J. did not begin playing volleyball until she got into junior high. However, having several people close to her with a passion for the game eventually drew her in from gymnastics.
“I started playing during my seventh-grade year,” T.J. said. “I don’t know, I guess I just kind of got into it because my brother loves volleyball. He’s coaching it now (at Sam Rayburn). My older sister Caitlyn was playing on a travel team with Baylor (Sessums) and all of them with Frankye (Sessums) as their coach. It was fun to go watch and it eventually interested me enough to quit gymnastics and play volleyball instead.”
In recent years, T.J. was a productive player as an underclassman and did not feel the pressure of vocal leadership. However, T.J. knows how beneficial it was to have guidance and support from her more experience. With that, she knows it is now her time to pour into the younger players as an upperclassman.
“Being the youngest on the teams for the past three years, I was looking up to the older players looking for motivation and positivity,” T.J. said. “Now, I have to provide that for the younger ones this year because they need that positivity and encouragement from me. They need to be told they’re doing good so they will stay mentally tough during games. With me having to be more vocal isn’t really me, but I know it is important to lead the team.”
The Lady Patriots volleyball program carries strong tradition to this day. Along with that, T.J. knows she has played alongside several quality players who all share many common goals and put forth their maximum effort.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have several talented groups of players and athletes come in who want to play,” T.J. said. “They hustle and leave it all out on the court. To me, a big part of being a good volleyball player is about hustling.”
In each of the previous three seasons, T.J. helped Prairiland advance at least one round in the postseason. During her years wearing a Prairiland jersey, consistency within the program has resonated with T.J.
“I think consistent aspects of the desire to play the game, hustling each play, and having a love for the game,” T.J. said. “Everyone on that court loves to play volleyball — that’s why they are there. Everyone enjoys it and has fun in each play. Those things and our hustle have led to success.”
When she isn’t playing volleyball, T.J. has recently been partaking in new activities. Even if they involve things stranger than what any athletic program can offer, the senior is trying to expand her hobbies.
“One day my dad told me that he and a couple of his friends were going to start a group playing Dungeons and Dragons and asked me if I wanted to join,” T.J. said, while laughing. “I told him, ‘Yeah, okay cool!”
Volleyball is not the only sport T.J. has excelled in. She also has lettered in basketball and tennis. When she and her older sister Caitlyn Folse were both on campus, T.J. enjoyed and recalled successful times on the tennis court.
“In tennis two years ago, me and my sister made it to regionals again,” T.J. said. “After losing in our first game in regionals my freshman year, we knew we had to come back and play harder. We won our first game and then we played Leonard, who was seeded second or third. We ended up going three sets against them. We lost the first set but ended up winning the next two sets to make it to the quarterfinal game. I was really proud that we pushed through that and won that game to go farther.”
When times get tough, T.J. likes to lay low and block out all the noise through some go-to tunes in her music library.
“When I get stressed out, I usually just lay down in my bed and listen to music,” T.J. said. “I will listen to either Christian music, a lot of early 2000s, and sometimes some modern pop — sometimes.”
During matches, the players may act like they are immune to any crowd noise. However, T.J. made it clear that she can hear some fans and is not impressed with how some plays are assessed from the bleachers.
“I guess the most irritating things I hear are when I’m playing in a game,” T.J. said. “There are parents from the other teams that think they know all the rules, and they do not know them. They’ll try to call doubles on first touches — that can’t happen. Then, if we get a touch on a block and we pass, set, and hit, they try to call four hits. I mean, we didn’t do that because we know four touches are against the rules. Yeah, it just kind of irritates me when they try to say this stuff and they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
T.J. will lead the Lady Patriots into a home matchup at 11 a.m. Saturday against Grand Saline. For more sports coverage, click here.